WHAT TO PACK. I’m often asked by clients what to really pack i.e the items not on the detailed 11.7Africa travel guide and packing list. This might be better fit for a glossy magazine like Travel & Leisure or Conde Nast, but here it is in 11.7 style, the items not on our general list plus a few that are. It’s catered to clients of the female persuasion.
Zip Ties – Forget the expensive and worthless TSA- approved luggage locks. I use zip ties. They are cheap, easy to carry and impossible to get off without someone knowing.
A Quick- Read – I’m not talking the autobiography of Helen Thomas, but something more along the lines of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You’ll regret bring the hard-read and spend valuable hours searching the library shelves in the lodges for something that doesn’t suck.
Sunhats x 3 – I’m not kidding. I bring three sunhats: a baseball hat, a floppy foldable sunhat and a massive wide-brimmed Sofia Lauren type hat or my favorite five-peso fedora from Havana. You might think this is extreme, but as someone who grew up swimming in the Colorado sunshine and now lives under the brilliant year-round beams at 7,000 feet, I am serious about my sun protection.
Peter Thomas Roth Superbly Dry Sunscreen – The perfect non-greasy sun block that conveniently comes in travel sizes.
Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Powder SPF – I’ve had the toughest rangers amazed by my dry powder sunscreen. You can use it anywhere and not only does it work, it takes makes it look like you just powdered your nose in the middle of the bush.
Viscose Scarf – This is a must for long and short plane rides, game drives, visits to mosques, etc. Not only does a great and versatile scarf provide warmth but also is a great way to shield yourself from the sun. Use it as a blanket in charter flights, a pillow on long drives, a belt, a shawl, a pillow cover, a barrier to sand or dust, etc. I couldn’t travel without a scarf and I’m sure MacGyver recommends taking one in case you need to hotwire the Landi.
Annie’s Mac & Cheese – I love good food, don’t get me wrong. But after a month of eating five-course gourmet meals at the best lodges on the continent all I crave is some plain old mac and cheese that I cook for myself. I’ve been known to sweet talk the kitchen staff to let me and cook up a box. A recent addition to the magic is a bit of Nandos hot sauce, which can be acquired anywhere in South Africa or at the Johannesburg Airport. I’m not saying bring mac and cheese but maybe throw in a bit of your own comfort food from home.
Moleskin Collapsible Folder & Notebook – I can’t tell you how useful the folder is for your passport, money, keeping receipts, etc. Plus the flap folds up, blocking curious Joes from seeing how much cash you are pulling out. I carry the notebook to jot down thoughts, great lodges, contact info, etc. Moleskin produces quality and good-looking stuff.
Your Favorite Sunglasses (and a Backup Pair!) – I understand the need and love for really good sunglasses. I once lost one of my favorite pairs on a game drive in the Lower Zambezi. I still wonder to this day if that lion is strolling along the Chongwe looking incredibly hip in my Smiths while I looked like an Iggy Pop impersonator in borrowed sunglasses.
Ipod – I only really use my iPod when traveling in Africa. My favorite time to put in my headphones and tune out the world is while taxiing and taking off in a bush plane or charter flight. You can’t hear anything; it is often really loud and sometimes hot. I’m a bit claustrophobic and it helps me Zen out. Moreover, a lot of cosmopolitan hotels also have iPod docks and when your away on an extended trip, it is amazing the impact a familiar voice like Eddie Vedder can have on you.
A Black Blazer – Sounds like a fancy addition to the packing list, but it is essential. People on safari or at beach destinations in Africa dress up for dinner. I wear mine to business meetings, dinners and even rugby matches. It goes with and over anything and is well worth the space it takes up.
Black Pants – Black goes with anything. While you can fully outfit yourself in safari neutrals at F.M. Allen, a pair or black pants goes a long way. You can wear them more than once and with pretty much anything.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer with SPF – Again with the sun block! A utilitarian product - lotion, makeup and SPF. Pair this with some mascara and a bit of lip gloss and it is all you need.
Key Pieces of Jewelry – I don’t believe in a lot of bling and especially of the diamond persuasion, but jewelry is nice to have. I wear my silver locket (which I fill with a new flower every time I step onto the African continent), my black Swatch Watch and my hand-carved wood engagement ring. Nothing too fancy, but undeniably me.
Expandable Satchel – My best advice when asked what kind of “day bag” to bring is an expandable satchel. I started out using my old climbing rope bag and have since evolved to a satchel from Madagascar and a Flaming Red Lilies Bag (made in South Africa and quite wonderful!).
iPhone or Blackberry – one of the most intriguing things that I want to write about is the prolific use of the cell phone in Africa. They leaped over the landline thing and are using mobiles for everything and anything including creating music. You can find coverage in places I would have thought impossible. Now I just need to talk to my cell phone company about coverage on my local ski hill.
A Good Toothbrush – I miss my electronic toothbrush when I travel. I’ve been stuck with one that feels like steel wool and been pretty miserable; don’t make that mistake.
Extra Memory Cards, Batteries and Adaptors – I sometimes unconsciously try to unplug. But when you really want ten extra frames or fifteen minutes to finish a phone conversation, you’ll be happy you went the extra mile and took along all of your electronic entourage.
Swimsuit – There is always a plunge pool, a river, an ocean, a really insane swimming hole on the edge of Victoria Falls to throw yourself in. Pack a suit; I don’t care if you think you won’t use it, bring it. And plus it doesn’t take up that much room; and if it does…you’re obviously packing the wrong type of suit.
Clothes – Like I said you could go all out and hit up Patagucci or F.M. Allen to get fully kitted out. I’m not above that; I’ve been known to be an ambassador for certain brands. But you don’t need to go out a buy a new wardrobe. Do the animals really care that you are wearing black gauchos opposed to khaki ones when they are lying next to a large Landi? The answer is no. Sure, if you are going on a game walk, or doing something that actually takes physical effort, not just bumping along in a vehicle, then you need drab, khaki wear. But in general, just wear your clothes; whatever is most you and makes you comfortable. Be observant of local customs and make sure that you are dressed appropriately. I err to being overdressed rather than underdressed in Africa.
Copies of Important Documents – You will never catch me on a trip without a reserve copy of my most important documents i.e. passport, yellow card, credit cards, phone numbers, contact lists, etc. TIA, stuff goes wrong and I like to have Plan B already in place.
Toiletries – You really don’t need to bring your own, but if you are like me and the thought of not using your favorite Aveda shampoo makes you nervous, bring them. GoToobs are perfectly designed for traveling; they don't leak or explode in transit and they make products easy to dispense. I’ve discovered some of my favorite brands on the African continent such as Africology products or Moroccan oil combs; still pack what you like and be pleasantly suprised when you find something that suits you.
Flip Flops/ Slippers – I don’t know what I would do without a pair of Locals (flip-flops from Hawaii); they might be the only footwear you need.
Micro-Down Jacket – People think that I’m crazy to bring a micro-down jacket to Africa – it’s warm there right? Wrong. Like anywhere, it can get pretty chilly in the evenings and in the early mornings. I’m a night owl; I could sit out all night looking up at the Southern Cross with a glass of wine in the boma…in my puffy jacket.
Adaptors – It’s tough to unplug, even in the most remote settings. Lodges usually have adapters on hand; I’ve even had airport restaurants offer me theirs. But I don’t like to inconvenience people or borrow things, so I recommend checking with Kropla and bringing along what you need.
Emergen-C – It’s a good idea to stash a few packets of Emergen-C or something of the like in your day bag. Travel is dehydrating and it’s exacerbated by heat and dry air. It’s amazing what this magic powder can do for your energy level and general well being.
Duct Tape – You always need duct tape…always.
So there it is. 11.7 would love your thoughts, your recommendations and those things that you absolutely couldn’t travel to the continent without.
- Jen Johnson